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2010 Annual Assessment

Young US Jews’ feelings toward Israel and Jewish peoplehood

Younger Jewish adults are no more monolithic than their elders, in regard to their relationship to Israel and other matters. Most studies indicate that the population of young Jews represents the entire continuum, with passionate and knowledgeable supporters of Israel at one end of the spectrum, and virulent de-legitimators of Israel’s existence in a tiny group at the opposite end of the spectrum. Among the majority, support for Israel ranges from activist to passive support. A substantial minority is probably more apathetic than for or against anything Jewish, including Israel. Furthermore, Israel attachment is affected by intermarriage, life cycle trajectories, travel to Israel, denomination, gender, and the Jewishness of one’s social networks. Nevertheless, despite this broad spectrum, there are characteristics that typify the younger generation, and distinguish them from older generations of American Jews.

global “audiences” see themselves as legitimate stakeholders, and are receptive to hearing about the issue of Palestinian rights

Discomfort with an understanding of Jewishness as bounded by ethnic peoplehood has been thoroughly internalized by many younger American Jews, who frequently embrace the cultural “nucleus,” the particulars of Jewish culture, but reject “us and them” constructions of ethnicity. Research interviews showed that, in a marked change from the past, Jews in their twenties report a strong attachment to Jewish ethnicity, but define Jewish music, food, books, comedy and cultural performance, family styles and religious rituals as the primary expressions of their ethnicity. They are confused when they read assertions about ethnic boundaries, because those concepts do not match the reality of their relationship to their Jewish ethnicity. Similarly, many are quite attached to Israeli music, food, and other cultural expressions, but rebel against the idea that Israel is vulnerable, or that they should defend Israel from existential threats. Often, they do not consider themselves conventional Zionists, although they continue to be interested in, to visit, and to care about events in and around Israel.

Young Jews today in the US and other Diaspora communities tend to postpone life decisions such as career choice, life partner and parenthood

One example of these attitudes is articulated by Rabbi Sarah Chandler, a ROI leadership program veteran who explains, “My Israel activism is not primarily coming from a place of Zionism, it is coming from a place of caring about modern, liberal Jews’ ability to stay connected to Jewish life.” Chandler urges the integration of moral and Judaic values into daily behavior—“quotidian Judaism”— to give a wide spectrum of young Jewish Americans the cultural literacy to imbue their social justice interest with Judaic knowledge. As sociologist Shaul Kelner points out in his analysis Tours That Bind, Israel visits such as Birthright Israel are valued by their engineers and implementers not only (or perhaps even primarily) “for fostering loyalties to the homeland,” but rather “for expanding the ‘cultural toolkits’ that diaspora ethnics have at their disposal.”63 However, despite the intentions of its professionals, Birthright Israel and other trips have a measurable positive effect on Israel attachment as well as Jewish identification.

Israel attachment among younger Jews

Social scientists have long noticed life-cycle fluctuations in Jewish engagement, usually rising from less engaged and more ambivalent during the young adult years, to more engaged and less ambivalent as marriage and parenthood transform Jewish lives, and Israel engagement may well be part of this familiar syndrome.64 Young Jews today in the United States and some other Diaspora communities tend to postpone life decisions, such as career choice, life partner, and parenthood. Organized Jewish leadership including Israel advocacy in prior generations came from men and women who were firmly embarked on a life direction, with spouses, children and life’s work.

As these and other studies make clear, although there are pronounced differences by age, in every segment of the American Jewish community the majority of younger Jews describe themselves as “attached to Israel” if (1) they have two Jewish parents, and (2) they have traveled to Israel at least once. The difference between the Israel attachments of in-married adults and of the children of in-married parents versus intermarried adults and the children of intermarried parents has often been blurred in highly publicized articles announcing “far lower levels of attachment to Israel among younger Jews.” Thus, Cohen and Kelman’s data show that “among the intermarried, those with low attachment to Israel are more than double the number with high attachment. Among the in-married and non-married, the number with high attachment to Israel surpasses the number with low attachment.”65 Analyzing a summer 2010 survey administered by Knowledge Networks, Brandeis CMJS researchers found: “Younger respondents were no less likely than older respondents to regard caring about Israel as important to their Jewish identities.” When they held all other variables constant, “caring about Israel” was positively affected by travel to Israel and by “religious observance” and negatively affected by “parental intermarriage,” but age was not statistically significant.66

Travel to Israel is also an important factor.

According to Cohen and Kelman:

Among those who have never been to Israel, the number with a high level of attachment is less than half the number with a low level of attachment (19 percent vs. 42 percent). Among those with only one trip, the relationship is reversed: those with high levels of attachment are double the number of those with a low degree of attachment to Israel (34 percent vs. 17 percent). Those who have been to Israel two or more times are even more firmly attached to Israel, with 52 percent scoring high and under 10 percent at the low end of attachment. Finally, among those who have lived in Israel. 68 percent score high on attachment, and just 6 percent score low.67

Denomination is also connected to American Jewish identification.68 This is especially true with regard to connections to Israel. In the 2007 American Jewish Committee Public Opinion Poll (Synovate, Inc.), when Jews were asked “How close do you feel to Israel?”—6 out of 10 Orthodox respondents answered that they feel “Very close” to Israel, as did 4 out of 10 Conservative Jews and 2 out of 10 Reform Jews, (64 %/ 39 % /22 %). Looking at the other end of the spectrum of feelings about Israel, 16 % of Conservative Jews responded they feel “Fairly distant” or “Very distant” from Israel, as did 30 % of Reform Jews but only 5 % of Orthodox Jews. Thus, Orthodox Jews today are much more likely than non-Orthodox Jews to feel that what goes on in Israel has immediate salience to their lives—one could say they “take it personally.”

Gender, as well, within the American Jewish community, outside of the Orthodox community, girls and women are dramatically more engaged and attached to things Jewish than boys and men.69 (NJPS 2000-01).

These results show that in areas of non-religious, ethnic, peoplehood—or tribal identification, there are large denominational gaps as well as among measures of religious observance. Practitioners of more traditional wings of Judaism not only make a greater effort to live near other Jews, and to provide their children with Jewish education and Jewish friends, but also feel more connected to Israel and are more likely to visit Israel. These connections to Israel, along with Jewish social networks—how many Jewish friends one and one’s children have, for example, are an important measure of Jewish identification. How many Jewish friends one has correlates closely with how much one identifies as a member of the Jewish people. To put it very simply, for younger American Jews, statistical attachment to Israel matches whether or not they have visited Israel and how many Jewish friends they have currently. Feeling part of the Jewish people at home and feeling part of the Jewish people overseas are closely connected. Many observers have noted, as well, that apathy toward Israel, perhaps a natural component of assimilation, may be far more widespread among weakly identified young American Jews than defined anti-Israel sentiment. Not surprisingly, weak Jewish connections in general also correlate to few or no Jewish friends and no visits to Israel.

Orthodox Jews are more likely than non-Orthodox Jews to feel that what goes on in Israel has immediate salience to their lives

The Jewish fight for social justice and the quarrel with Israeli policies

In decades past, trips to Israel almost automatically seemed to produce positive and frequently unambivalent attachments to Israel. Among today’s young people, repeated trips to Israel, however, are related to attachments but also to knowledge of and critical attitudes toward a broad range of Israeli policies. For example, one young rabbi described at length problems in Israeli life, such as “trafficking sex workers, foreign workers who are oppressed, Bedouins that don’t have water.” In another example, musician Alicia Jo Rabins expressed ambivalent feelings toward Israel that are characteristic of younger Jews who have spent substantial time in Israel, who relate to Jewish culture, and who are critical of Israeli policies. While she is “very grateful for Jerusalem being the place where I studied Torah – it’s really moving and incredible,” she feels “sad and worried” when she thinks about Israel’s behavior and positions in the world. “I feel ashamed about what’s being done in the name of Jews,” she says, “when you see people doing things in the name of Judaism that you don’t really believe in, it’s very hard as a Jew.” Like many younger American Jews, Rabins is the child of “baby boomers” and is a “second-generation leftist-liberal” in regard to attitudes toward Israel. Although she has moved far closer to Jewish connections than her parents in terms of text study, rituals, worship, spiritual and cultural expression, her political attitudes are a direct transmission from her baby-boomer parents. As Rabins says, “politically, the dominant kind of progressive, leftist American position on Palestine and Israel and stuff is what we grew up with. That was the assumption, as opposed to the generation before my parents, growing up with a kind of allegiance to Israel being the assumption.”

Apathy towards Israel may be far more widespread among weakly identified young American Jews than defined anti-Israel sentiment

Many young American Jews have very high standards for moral national behavior. They expect the countries they feel attached to-like the United States and Israel-to live up to those moral standards. Thus, their critical attitudes toward Israel are often matched by critical attitudes toward the United States. Their criticism of Israel reflects not so much a lack of interest in Israel as a redefinition of their relationship and involvement with Israel. Young American Jewish leaders and cultural figures ubiquitously declare themselves to be dedicated to global and local social justice in vigorous efforts that transcend ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic boundaries. For many, the most worthwhile Jewish characteristic is the pursuit of social justice. Young leaders such as Rabbi Dara Frimmer depicts fighting for justice as the only non-negotiable, quintessential, core Jewish activity. Here is how she characterizes the attitudes of her age cohort (without subscribing to these beliefs herself): “Don’t keep kosher, that’s fine, don’t keep Shabbat, that’s fine, marry a non-Jew—whatever. But understand that it will take away your Jewish identity if you don’t fight for justice.”

Young people with backgrounds in all wings of Judaism as well as those from secular or unaffiliated families often speak about social justice in language virtually identical to classical Reform Jewish conceptions of the universalistic mission of Judaism to be an ohr lagoyim (a light unto the nations). Several talked about previous Jewish work on behalf of social justice, such as Jewish and rabbinic activism on behalf of the Civil Rights movement “Jews were on the right (ethical) side of history then. Jews were on the right side of history in the gay rights movement. We should try more often to be on the right side of history.” Interestingly, these beliefs are articulated not only by those working in social justice enterprises, but by artists, intellectuals, and various types of Jewish communal professionals. The passion for social justice crosses denominational lines and includes those that identify as Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, “Post-Denominational,” or secular Jews. This concern for justice informs the identification on the part of many young Jews with liberal values which we have indicated above.

For many young American Jewish leaders, social justice concerns become especially poignant in critical examinations of Israel’s policies. This is especially true for a constellation of individuals and institutions that one leader called “the New Israel Fund, J-Street, Pro-Peace, Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestinian, Progressive, Post-Zionist elite.” Some accuse Zionist organizations and Jewish communal institutions of being self-serving and self-aggrandizing, committed to the status quo which serves them well but does not necessarily serve the needs of the American Jewish community or international goals of social justice.

Rabbi Dara Frimmer: “Don’t keep kosher, marry a non-Jew, that’s fine – but it will take away your Jewish identity if you don’t fight for justice”

Complicated feelings and connections to Jews, Israel and Zionism

Young Jews want to be able to move fluidly between the Jewish and non-Jewish world, and reject the “particularism of, like – six million died, we need to protect ourselves; we need to get to Israel; we have to stick by our own.” Many explain that generally the world to them “doesn’t seem that threatening,” so they don’t understand why Jews are “so closed-off.” Rabbi Sharon Brous, whose Ikarim project has been acclaimed and influential, says her peers “are very resentful of a Jewish life and a Jewish experience that is insular, that’s only worried about Israel or that’s only worried about the Jewish community or Jews in need.” Young adults are looking for “some more broad articulation of what it means to be a Jew and a human being in the world,” explains Brous, so that young Jews understand what it means to engage “not only the Jewish community, and not only the Jews in Israel, but far beyond the Jewish community as well.”

“Encounter”, founded by Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, is dedicated to exposing Jewish Diaspora leaders to the realities of Palestinian life

Young leaders reject dichotomous us/them thinking and Jewish tribal allegiances, and many young Jews spoke about “not wanting to be restricted to the tribe, and seeing the tribe as opposed to identifying with other groups, serving other groups, or being in community with other groups.” This push-back against Jewish particularism and tribalism also translates to a more nuanced and complicated relationship with Israel. An outgrowth of this new and visceral relationship is their dedicating themselves to new organizations which promote measured and critical engagement with the Jewish state. Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, for example, founded Encounter, an educational organization dedicated to exposing Jewish Diaspora leaders to the realities of Palestinian life. She explained that the mission of her work is “to cultivate an awareness in the Jewish community of Palestinian narratives and realities in order to foster more complex and constructive engagement with the situation as a whole.” Weintraub envisions building “a community founded on listening, learning and loving.”

The tendency of connecting to Israel through cultural materials, rather than through political solidarity, is characteristic of some elite “post-denominational” worship environments whose congregations have educationally and occupationally high status, are comparatively well educated Jewishly, and have almost universally traveled to Israel multiple times. “I see a lot of engagement with Israeli music, culture, film, and things like that,” says Washington Square founder Yehuda Kurtzer, himself a Sabbath-observant product of a home with strong diplomatic interests, and highly identified with Israel. However, deciding the group’s official attitude toward Israel became a painfully complicated and controversial issue, splitting the group into two highly polarized, oppositional factions. As a result, “Yom Ha’atzmaut is not really on our liturgical calendar,” Kurtzer explains:

“Engagement with Israel is one of these issues that’s very thorny for this generation of Jews….we have, increasingly, ambivalence about the holiday Yom Ha’atzmaut and what it says about the State of Israel theologically and what the costs are of that theology. The language of reishit tzmikhat geulateinu (the beginning of the flowering of our redemption) has produced a political culture in Israel that we’re very uncomfortable with – the culture of messianism, the culture of ultra-nationalist Zionism. It’s affiliated with that language, and with that kind of mythic structure, so it’s hard to say those prayers because of the political identification that it brings with it…”

Disillusionment with Zionism and with Israel as the “homeland” of American Jews is often accompanied by a symbiotic fascination with and attachment to Diaspora Jewishness. Young American Jewish leaders and cultural creators and brokers are clearly fascinated with the Jewish Diaspora experience. This fascination expresses itself in a revival of interest in Yiddish language, literature, and culture—as opposed to Hebrew.

Cultural expressions delineate critical/ attachment phenomenon

Cultural expressions provide very useful illustrations of the ideological disillusionment of some young Jews with the moral flaws of the Jewish State. For example, a graphic essay/ cartoon by novelist Eli Valley in a recent issue of the influential New York periodical, The Forward, portrays a Jewish “Sociologist for Hire,” named “Bucky Shvitz” (May 26, 2010). In Valley’s graphic essay, Shvitz discovers that young American Jews are losing their Jewish identity because they are so disillusioned with racism, sexism, corruption, and other moral and sociopolitical problems in Israel. However, Shvitz is warned by the established Jewish community that if he wishes to earn money he must bury these findings, and falsely proclaim instead that Jewish identity is linked to Israel attachments. Among the many lively blog responses to Valley’s piece, one expounded: “Mr. Valley has succeeded at just the thing that many American Jewish organizations want us to think is impossible: being Jews whose identity is not solely based on Israel. After all there is so much more to being Jewish than just Israel. There are other languages, cultures, food ways, and political points of view….”70

Young American de-emphasis on Jewish peoplehood, which provides fertile ground for the de-legitimization of Israel, is also explored in Michael Chabon’s acclaimed novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Chabon asks whether nationalistic historical Jewish understandings are fundamentally unworkable and dangerous. To Chabon and others like him, there is no promised land that will save the Jews, and religion will not save the Jews. Indeed, having Jewish space and governmental power separate from the non-Jewish world serves to transform religious power into a stinking morass of Jewish corruption. Genuine Jewish values can only triumph if individuals are willing to confront the evil of fellow Jews and take a chance on personal integrity, their dearest held truths, and those they love.

Michael Chabon serves as co-chair of Americans for Peace Now, along with his wife, novelist Ayelet Waldman. The two have articulated rejections of conventional “pro-Israeli” policy, such as those in the November 2008 Peace Now Newsletter declaring: “As Jews and Jewish novelists, we devote our lives to envisioning and imagining the world as we have inherited it and as we wish it might be. But all of that history and all those imaginings are endangered, now, by those who are committed to ensuring future bloodshed, violence and fear.” Some readers felt that the couple’s political and moral critiques of Israel permeated The Yiddish Policeman’s Union—and thus reached and influenced a different, and perhaps broader, audience than those who read Jewish newspapers and Jewish organizational literature.

Young American de-emphasis on Jewish peoplehood provides fertile ground for the de-legitimization of Israel

Summary of the new mode of “Critical Attachment”

For many younger American Jews the concept of ethnic peoplehood, the world divided into “us” and “them,” is not salient. Younger Jewish leaders are interested in Judaism as a way of providing meaningfulness in life, of giving them access to friendship circles and a sense of community, and in Jewish cultural expressions such as music, literature and film. They respond to Jewish culture and Jewish activities, but not to the idea that there is a difference between Jews and non-Jews. They are thus responsive to Jewish educational activities, but unresponsive to activities to “protect” Jews since they don’t feel vulnerable or different.

As a group, younger Jews who exhibit the new modalities of Jewish identity and critical attachment to Israel can be described as post-tribal, post-nationalist, post-Zionist

As a group, younger Jews who exhibit the new modalities of Jewish identity and critical attachment to Israel can be described as Post-tribal, post-nationalist, post-Zionist: Younger Jews sit comfortably in their American Jewish skins, partially because Jewish cultural references have become part of the American context. Some are critical of both Jewish tribalism and American nationalism. Many associate primarily with other young Americans who see the world through post-nationalist, global eyes. Many are sensitive to moral weaknesses and political mistakes associated with the American government, and express sadness that their country is so involved in military campaigns.

Not only are they post-nationalist in regard to America, some are also post-tribal in their Jewish lives, and post-Zionist. They are anxious for Judaism to be a force for good in the world as well. Many of them agonize about the perils of Israeli military and political power. Some are far more worried about Israeli militarism than about Jewish survivability. Among most of the young Jewish leaders we interviewed, ideals of tolerance and inclusivity were compelling and seem to have become the new dogma. Where their parents or grandparents may have sought out Jewish environments that built social capital by enabling them to “bond” with likeminded individuals, to borrow Putnam’s useful distinction, today’s young American Jewish leaders privilege “bridging” forms of social capital instead.71 They dislike intensely name-calling such as “self-hating Jew,” which they view as an attempt to manipulate and silence critical thinking. Mention of the Holocaust is not a “magic bullet” for them—quite the contrary-especially when it appears to them that the Shoah is being exploited for political reasons.

The Distancing Hypothesis controversy and Peter Beinart’s article

Very recently (and in some connection with Peter Beinart‘s article mentioned above) a controversy has emerged among social scientists investigating American Jews regarding the “distancing hypothesis”. Some sociologists claim that there is a long-term trend among young American Jews of distancing from Israel. The proponents of this claim argue that, over time, young American Jews have become less attached to Israel; that Israel is less central to them and their sense of being Jewish and that there is less support for Israel than there once was.72 Other social scientists dispute this claim and argue that young American Jews have always shown less support than older Jews and that this is largely tied to life cycle. Young Jews start to become involved in the Jewish community and in support and attachment to Israel after they settle down into marriage, career and children.73 Despite the fact that this question has been the focus of a recent issue of Contemporary Jewry74 with over two dozen contributors, it is perceived by many as being unresolved. A careful analysis of the data, however, reveals that advocates of both schools are working from the same data, merely emphasizing different segments of the population. The data show that many young Jews – unlike many of their elders – feel attached to Israel but critical of Israeli policies at the same time, and they bitterly resent what they perceive as attempts to silence them or ignore their concerns.

What we can say with some certainty is that the structural factors affecting distancing seem to be on the rise. As we have seen, both intermarried partners and the children of intermarriage are on the whole less attached to Israel and intermarriage is on the rise as a long term trend. Similarly, as time goes on, young American Jews are settling down into marriage, career and children, which for many brings with it Israel attachment, later and later in their lives.

As regards the Beinart thesis, that it is Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians and the lack of movement towards a peace agreement with them and the establishment of a Palestinian state, that brings in its wake young Jews’ alienation from Israel, researchers from both camps agree that what distancing does occur is not primarily precipitated by politics. Nevertheless, two things must be noted in this regard: The first is that irregardless of whether there is a quantitative change in the attachment to Israel on the part of young American Jews, the discourse regarding Israel and Zionism has changed among young people. As we have illustrated throughout this paper, it is more and more acceptable to be critical (even severely critical) of Israel and to imagine Jewish life, being and expression in such a way that Israel and Zionism are deemed as detrimental or irrelevant to it. For limited segments of the younger Jewish population, it may be increasingly acceptable to view Israel and Zionism as being a negative or irrelevant factor in regard to what is important and valuable in Jewish life; for an important segment, including most of the young leadership, Israel remains a central but not the only central pillar of their Jewish lives. Fewer young Jews are willing to identify Israel as occupying the most core place in their Jewish landscape. These attitudes find ample expression in journalism, art, literature and blogging.

Many young Jews – unlike their elders – feel attached to Israel but critical of Israeli policies at the same time

While Beinart has been severely criticized as providing no basis for his claim and on the contrary, his claim seems to have been refuted by social scientific research, his article seems to have struck a nerve. Beinart touched upon the fact that at least in the realm of discourse there is much more severe criticism, Diasporism and post-Zionism than many Jewish leaders and commentators are comfortable with.

Passive, and ambivalent young Jews

The tendency of most young American Jews to be either passively supportive of Israel, non-involved or ambivalent results in the fact that in the majority of cases those who attempt to de-legitimize Israel are far more energetic than the majority of young American Jews who care about Israel, but are not passionate activists. One example of Jewish passivity in the face of Israel bashing is reported by Republican political consultant and public opinion pollster Frank Lunz, in a gathering of 35 MIT and Harvard students, 20 non-Jews and 15 Jews, to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during the summer of 2010. The incident, in which Jewish students sat silent while non-Jews referred to “the war crimes of Israel,” asserting that “the Jewish lobby” means that “the Jews have a lot more power and influence,” was discussed by Evelyn Gordon in Commentary magazine’s blog quoting Luntz’s own words75:

Beinart touched upon the fact that at least in the realm of discourse there is much more criticism, Disaporism and post-Zionism than Jewish leaders are comfortable with

“And guess what? Did the Jewish kids at the best schools in America, did they stand up for themselves; Did they challenge the assertions? They didn’t say sh*t. And in that group was the leader of the Israeli caucus at Harvard. It took him 49 minutes of this before he responded to anything. [Later] it all dawned on them: If they won’t say it to their classmates, whom they know, who will they stand up for Israel to? … And they’re all looking at each other with horrible embarrassment and guilt like you wouldn’t believe.”

The New Zionists

Any picture of the relationship of younger American Jews to Israel would be misleading and incomplete without including a group who might be termed “the new Zionists.” As individuals, these talented, dynamic young people are committed to Israel and to Israel’s defense with a deep passion.

The new Zionists include artists like acclaimed young novelist Dara Horn, who dramatizes many different kinds of Jews in her prolific novels. Horn, who comes from a middle-of-the-road Conservative background and still considers herself part of that demographic, incorporates historical settings and events into novels that educate readers about the particularism, marginality and vulnerability of the Jewish experience. She believes the insouciance of young American Jews results from a mirage about their incorporation into non-specific middle class white America, but that Jews are always on the edge, whether they perceive it or not. Horn sees awareness of this vulnerability, and an alertness to the importance of cherishing Jewish traditions and Jewish lives, as the only – and only a partial – protection against being blindsided by fate.

The new Zionists include young Orthodox leaders like recent Brandeis graduate Avi Bass, who for his senior honors thesis completed a study of factors encouraging emigration to Israel. Bass had the original idea to create an organization called “Impact Aliyah,” and worked with two friends to make it a reality. He has now emigrated and works to make aliyah transitions easier for new North American olim. And one could include idealists like Rabbi Seth Farber, a teacher and activist on behalf of innovative ideas of open Orthodoxy, who embodies what he calls the “love-hate” relationship of some contemporary Zionists. He says, “I love the idea of Israel, having lived here for 14 years, but I’m very frustrated by the difficult religious culture and ethos of this country”.”

The new Zionists have an organizational dimension as well. Organizations like The David Project, the Hillel Institute, and StandWithUs, an international organization based in Los Angeles, all work to train university students to reframe discussions about the Middle East and to articulate facts about Israel-and to defend themselves for defending Israel. As Roz Rothstein, co-founder of StandWithUs, puts it, “Israel is the target, but Jewish students who stand up for Israel also become the target.”76 It is perhaps no wonder that only the most committed students are willing to repeatedly allow themselves to be targeted in this way.

Implications of De-legitimization for Jewish identification and engagement in Europe

The Jews of Europe are sometimes held accountable for controversial Israeli actions77, and if this intensifies, many Jews will avoid the issue of Israel in public discourse, hold neutral or critical attitudes toward Israel and eventually decrease their Jewish profile in general. With relatively high social, professional and economic individual status, most European Jews will, in all likelihood, remain in Europe. Should Israel be branded as a pariah-state, most Jews will probably lower their Jewish profile while a minority may feel more committed. We have already observed the emergence of such polarization, and this process seems to be accelerating.

“Israel is the target, but Jewish students who stand up for Israel also become the target”

All sociological and cultural factors that erode identification of American young Jews with Israel, as described in the previous section about US campuses, also exist in Europe. As in America, today’s young European Jews are more independent minded than their parents with respect to identity and communal belonging. Both communal-behavioral patterns and support to Israel cannot anymore be taken for granted.

The centrality of Israel to their lives is one of the major differences between European young Jews and their American counterparts. Israel’s political actions affect European Jews wherever they live and, as the most vibrant cultural and Jewish life center, it is positioned as the very focal point of their identity. Even those who decide to turn away from their Jewishness have to position themselves, eventually in a negative manner, toward Israel. Wherever they live in Europe, and even if they have lived there for thousand years, they cannot avoid being identified as associated with Israel successes and failures. The Young Jews of Russia and Ukraine have friends and family in Israel and all their Jewish identity is nurtured by Israel emissaries and materials. In the UK, almost all affiliated Jews have visited Israel, most have family there and 20% have lived there at some point. 97% claim Israel is central to their daily life. In France, where 70% have first-degree family in Israel, 70% have visited the country in the last ten years, and identification with Israel and commitment to its survival is very strong. Sociologists mention that the main controversial issue in intermarriage couples appears to be around Israel, and the non-Jewish partners describe their partners’ attitude to Israel and the need to defend its survival as visceral.

The centrality of Israel to their lives is one of the major differences between European young Jews and their American counterparts

Europe’s geographical proximity to Israel is an additional factor accounting for differences between young American Jews and their European counterparts. For many young Europeans, Tel-Aviv is a huge open air JCC, and in the absence of space for a vibrant secular cultural life in Europe, spending holidays and even university shorter breaks in Israel has become their way to give expression to the Jewish dimension of their hyphenated identity while living a Jewish-free life during the year on campus. Travelling to Israel has become both a social strategy and a religious one. Some, uncomfortable with what they perceive as an artificial, synagogue-oriented and duty-oriented Jewish life in their local communities, find more suitable opportunities for Jewish engagement in Israel. Should Israel adopt an open-sky policy, leading to a sharp decrease in the price of air travel, this phenomenon may accelerate.

Strong connectivity and ethnic identity do not immunize against assimilation. In an age of individualism, multiple identities and refusal of totalizing identity, endogamy has lost its mandatory normative requirement, and out-marriage and disaffection from communal life are very common. In this on-line age, even while as many as 50-70% of British and French Jews have personally experienced Israel, the State of Israel has lost its imaginary aura of a holy and infallible entity. While those more disaffected distance themselves from Israel because of political disagreement, even some of the most engaged, core community Jews have also become more critical of Israeli political and social behaviors because of their emotional closeness. Even those who accept Israel as the core state of the Jewish people have a less forgiving attitude; they are less and less able to turn a blind eye to what they perceive as Israel’s unjust, unfair, or immoral behaviors. Many are more critical of Israeli internal and foreign policies because the Internet, not to mention the 24/7 news media, has made them more familiar with them. As global de-legitimization of Israel and Judaism become more and more interwoven, the conventional difference between rear and frontlines of battle loses its relevance, and Diaspora Jewish students become conscripted battlefront soldiers and so feel a right to criticize. Despite this, the critical issue is more a matter of young Jewish adult personal priorities than simply a matter of distancing from Jewishness and support of Israel: In Europe, the majority of young Jews – who, as mentioned earlier, have experienced daily life in Israel – fundamentally care about Israel and are disgusted by anti-israeli media bias, anti-Zionist lies, moral double standards and distorted facts about Israel. Most of them “do not want to be too involved” and do not come to college to confront others around “controversial issues”. Moreover, those who attempt to de-legitimize Israel are far more energetic than the majority of Western young Jews who care about Israel but are not passionate activists. We may expect that in case their voice is not heard and we do not provide them with moral justification, a large number of them will emotionally disengage and become more apathetic.

In a context that prizes personal choice among multiple hyphenated identities, more than a matter of birth, Jewishness increasingly becomes a matter of choice. Identification with Israel, support of Israeli foreign policy, endogamy, marrying Jewishly, participating in communal events, are no longer self-evident and mandatory in defining oneself as a serious Jew.
In the eyes of committed Jews, the relationship with Israel is complex: while Israel is indeed the most vibrant community and a primordial pole of reference for some, for others it has lost its ethical authority and identifying with Israeli foreign policy becomes increasingly difficult. It is especially true for European ultra-Orthodox Jews. On one side, they perceive their Jewishness as fully defined without a need to refer to the Israeli political entity, but, on the other side, they cannot avoid being identified by the non-Jews as tightly connected to Israel.

Trends Among Jewish Youth and Global Changes in Values and Attitudes

These trends among young Jews seem to reflect general trends regarding cultural change and values in the contemporary world. They are probably related to the unprecedented economic and physical security that has been the lot of the developed world since World War II and by the rise of the Information Age since around 198078.

For some European Jews, Israel has lost its ethical authority and identifying with Israeli policies becomes increasingly difficult

One such change has been the emergence of what Inglehart and his collaborators have termed “post-materialism”. In a series of publications, Inglehart has documented a broad value shift characteristic of “post-industrial” society i.e. societies whose economies are largely dominated by services and information technology.79 Inglehart has summarized this shift as one from “survival” to “self-expression”. Among other characteristics, in the “survival” pattern of cultural values there is a great emphasis upon attaining physical and economic security, low levels of interpersonal trust, intolerance of outgroups and foreigners and stress upon group boundaries (“us and them”). In contrast, individuals and groups in the “self-expression” pattern emphasize self-expression and quality of life as opposed to mere survival. They also report much higher levels of interpersonal trust and tolerance towards outgroups and foreigners.

Young American Jews, in contrast to most contemporary leaders, tend to view survival and its associated orientations such as strong group boundaries in negative light

Most contemporary Jewish leaders exhibit a cultural orientation of “survival”. Having grown up during or right after the Holocaust, leaders of major Jewish organizations who are in their sixties and seventies have experienced the struggle for the establishment and consolidation of the State of Israel as their formative experiences. These Jewish struggles for basic survival and security probably resonate with more general historical experiences of a similar nature – World War II, the Cold War and the Depression. Thus, for the generation of Jewish leaders, survival is very important. It also has served them, as it has served generations of Jewish leaders, as an instrument for Jewish mobilization (including of course, financial mobilization).80 In accordance with the “survival” pattern of cultural orientations, clear definitions of group boundaries and clear definitions of out-groups and enemies is also very important.

In contrast to this, today’s young Jews have been brought up after the 1970’s, at a time when not only America but especially the American Jewish community has enjoyed unprecedented security, prosperity and integration into American life. Similarly, they grew up at a time when Israel’s existence was not only assured, but when Israel had expanded into new, controversial territories. These young Jews are not only not oriented towards survival, as we have seen, they tend to view survival and its associated orientations such as strong group boundaries in negative light. The emphasis upon Israel’s survival does not serve for them as a basis for mobilization; on the contrary, it marks Israel as a “problem” which they would rather stay away from. As has been pointed out, they see “peace” and not survival as a most important value. In accordance with the self-expression pattern, they endorse tolerance, diversity and pluralism as well as “peace”. Their attachment to Jewish and Israeli culture (food, music, literature) is also part of their orientation towards self expression.

Another, related cultural change that has occurred is that modernity has become more “liquid” (To borrow a term of Zygmunt Bauman’s).81 In the period before the last quarter of the twentieth century, everyday institutions and expectations were more “solid”. Middle class people in Europe and America, for example, expected to get married, to bear and rear children. Today, many more people “start from scratch” in deciding what they as individuals want for their own lives82 They must decide what a relationship is and what it includes, do they want a relationship, with a person of which sex etc.83 In other words, individuals must decide about a plethora of things that not so long ago were decided for them – and that people like them accepted as the fixed order of the world. In a similar vein Robert Wuthnow comments that young American adults have “opportunities to make choices that are unprecedented,” and they are especially likely to engage in seeking and tinkering behaviors. His description uncannily reflects many of the spiritual narratives of our informants:

“Many have been reared by parents who encouraged them to think for themselves and to make such choices….Seeking is also conditioned by living in a society that often does not supply a single best answer to our questions or needs. This is why seeking results in tinkering. It becomes not only possible but also necessary to cobble together one’s faith from the options at hand”.84

Young American Jews similarly exhibit radical individualism when it comes to Israel. They do not assume that mere belonging to the Jewish people necessarily dictates the attitude that they will take towards the State of Israel in general or any of the specific controversies that the State of Israel is embroiled in. Just as they decide individually central things about their lives (sexual orientation, marriage, religious lifestyle etc.), young Jews want to make up their own minds about Israel, the Palestinians, the Peace process etc. They want to be presented with balanced information and balanced pictures and to decide for themselves.

De-Legitimization and the Crisis of Jewish Particularity

Another factor which has influenced the relationship of young American Jews to Israel is that the de-legitimization of Israel raises again the historic issue of the legitimacy and place of Jewish particularity. De-legitimization raises once again central problematics in the relationship of Judaism and Christianity and in the place of the Jew in the modern world.

“Young American adults have opportunities to make choices that are unprecedented”

The problem of Jewish particularity, and its corollaries, Jewish “carnality” and “materiality”, has confronted the Jew in his relations with Christianity in the pre-Modern period; it has confronted him in his attempts to enter the modern nation-state and modern society. It also confronts him now in regard to the state of Israel. Just as Jewish particularity was a problem in regard to the attempts of the individual Jew to become a modern citizen in Europe and to become integrated into modern European society85, so its Jewish particularity has become a problem for the State of Israel in its attempt to fit into the contemporary, universal globalized world order.

The crisis of the Jew in the European nation-state and in European modernity in general was experienced both by the European states and the gentile population (especially the intelligentsia) and by the Jews. As in the past, the contemporary crisis of Jewish particularity seems to have reawakened perennial Jewish debates concerning the legitimacy, meaning and justification for Jewish particularity as it expresses itself in the Jewish national state of Israel and in Jewish minority existence in the Diaspora.

The policy challenge facing the Jewish people today is how to prevent the renewal of this debate from turning into a source of internal weakness and subversion of Jewish well being and how to turn into a source of Jewish creativity and thriving.

In the eyes of Christianity, Judaism is an inferior version of the same religion, due to its “carnality”

The crisis of Jewish particularity in the West is tied in the deepest sense specifically to the nature of Judaism and its relation to Christianity in the eyes of Christians.

In the eyes of Christianity, Judaism is not simply another religion which one can tolerate or not. Judaism is an inferior version of the same religion. Its inferiority lies precisely in its “carnality”, that is the fact that it expresses its truths through performing bodily, material mitzvoth (i.e. laying tefillin) and especially through the fact that it is carried by a particular ethnic descent group and does not include (in principle) all of humanity. This attitude is manifest in all the layers of the Christian Bible. Jewish particularism and “stubbornness” is especially offensive. It is not merely that Judaism is “wrong”, rather it offers an inferior, lower, even caricatured version of the truth of God. Moreover, Jews do not have to say anything to give offense. Their very particular, “carnal” being is an offense, because it embodies their low, carnal understanding of the truth.86

These themes continued into the Enlightenment. Even though the Enlightenment, especially in its French (or more broadly, Catholic) version, was very anti-Church, it was not at all pro-Jewish. Voltaire himself, though he called to “erase” or uproot the infamy of Christianity, strongly held anti-Semitic stereotypes concerning Jews and Judaism.87 In German speaking lands (as well as in Britain and Scandinavia, Protestant countries), there was much more of a tendency to identify Enlightenment with Christianity, or at least with a reasonable, enlightened Christianity.

All this impinged upon the standing of the Jews and the attitude towards them. Enlightenment theologians viewed Judaism as “particularist, provincial, local and preliminary”, while Christianity is “abstract, general and universal.”88 In fact, Jewish particularity under Enlightenment conditions is even more offensive than under traditional conditions. Enlightenment criticism of Christianity removed most of the particular and ceremonial features of Christianity (Latin, Eucharist etc.) that could serve as a barrier to Jewish identification with the Christian religion. All that remained was pure ethical rationalism.

Such a negative attitude towards Judaism and Jews transcended theological discourse per se and became a feature of general European Enlightenment discourse and culture. While the Jew may have enjoyed formal Emancipation in Europe, he could never fully become a member of European society. That is “Jews as Jews” could never be admitted “to the ranks of humanity.”89

In a celebrated essay, “The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition” and in other writings, Hannah Arendt outlines the Jew’s responses to his post-Emancipatory non-acceptance – the Parvenu and the “Conscious Pariah”. For Arendt, Pariah status is thrust upon the Jew. The Jew has no choice. What matters is how he meets this fate, whether with parvenu ignominy or builds upon his outcast status a critical vision of emancipation. Arendt holds that the Jewish Pariah vision is a genuine contribution to the general spiritual life of the Western world, and implicitly a justification of Jewish pariah status (from the point of view of the Jew. The gentile has no ethical right to impose it). Thus, from Mendelssohn through Heine, Kafka and Hannah Arendt, from the historic Reform movement to contemporary Reconstructionist rabbis, the Jews have crystallized a “solution” to the crisis of Jewish particularity. Jewish particularity can be permitted if it promotes, through criticism and action, increased social justice for the downtrodden, the oppressed and the outcast. Jewish particularity is uniquely suited for this role because of the Jews’ own position as Pariah and outcast. This solution to Jewish particularity is an important contributing factor to the support that Jews in the modern era have traditionally lent to liberal and leftist causes.

The State of Israel seems to have revived this problematic. The State of Israel again represents a crisis of Jewish particularity. Israel’s particular Jewish character could be tolerated as long as Israel was seen as advancing the cause of social justice and “was on the right side of history”. As long as the Jews of Israel were seen as the remnant of a persecuted and decimated people trying to carve out a place in the world in the face of corrupt Arab sheikhs and oil companies, Israeli-Jewish particularity was tolerated and occasionally encouraged. The fact that Israeli elites were socialist and that Israel was associated with the egalitarian kibbutz also helped. During the nineteen fifties and sixties, “progressive” intellectuals supported Israel in its fight against annihilation.

In the past forty years this claim has become increasingly difficult to sustain. Israel has become a regional super-power and since 1967, whether willingly or not, subjugates a population of around 3 million Palestinians. The discourse of de-legitimization capitalizes upon this. The discourse of de-legitimization centers around the two concepts of Israeli-Jewish particularity and Israeli oppression of Palestinians. At its height, the discourse of de-legitimization claims that Jewish-Israeli particularity itself (in its essence, without having to do anything) is oppressive and immoral. So, we are back on familiar ground, the world is trying to construct a universal global order based upon human rights, only Jewish Israel presents an obstacle to that world order. And Jewish Israel has no excuses for its particularistic existence. It clearly does not advance universal social justice, quite the opposite – it is an oppressive immoral force.

It should be stressed that the substructure of de-legitimization is the substructure of Jewish-Gentile relations. In the era of Enlightenment, only Jewish particularity presented a challenge to ethical universalism. French, Polish, Italian, German particularity does not because the French, Germans etc. are all Christians and hence belong to a universal civilization. Only Jewish particularity is considered a threat to ethical universalism because it represents an inferior particularist-carnal understanding of the message (kerygma) of God. Similarly, only Jewish-Israeli particularity represents a threat to globalized ethical universalism because the Jews represent an inferior particularist-carnal ethical order. Thus the violations of other national states of human rights and justice are not treated with the same severity that Israel’s violations are. At bottom, the other states, being Gentile, are deemed to belong in principle to the new universalist, globalized order. Their violations are local violations. They are not deemed to be a religious-civilizational threat to that order. Israel’s actions are considered much differently – they are considereded a direct religious-civilizational challenge and hence treated accordingly.

At its height, the discourse of de-legitimization claims that Jewish particularity itself, in its essence, is oppressive and immoral

Thus, de-legitimization revives a classic Jewish-Gentile problematic and even though it is directed to Israel, its reverberations reach and affect Jews everywhere. There is a natural slippage from the de-legitimization of Israel to the de-legitimization of Jews, Judaism and their particularistic existence. Thus de-legitimization has to be understood not only as a threat to Israel but to particular Jewish existence everywhere. If the state of Israel does not advance the cause of justice but, on the contrary, is an oppressive and unjust regime, then perhaps Jewish particularity everywhere is illegitimate.

One prominent response to this is to return and to stress the approach elaborated by Hannah Arendt – that true Jewish existence does not adhere in a Jewish nation-state with its orientation towards power but rather in minority-Diaspora existence which champions the oppressed and the downtrodden. Or, at the very least, young Jews are interested in reopening the question of the preferred form of Jewish existence – is it necessarily a nation-state with its power orientations and ethical dilemmas or can Jewish existence and civilization be best realized in the Diaspora? This explains “the new Diasporaism” and the popularity of the writing of such authors as Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman.

In sum, it is not altogether clear whether there is a “distancing from Israel” on the part of young Jews. What does seem to have happened is change in the discourse. Young Jews are starting to open up debates and questions which have not been heard since the 1930’s, and which challenge the centrality of Jewish nationalism to Jewish existence. Certainly, Diasporaism has existed in America since the 1960’s. The concept that America is Babylon – as opposed to Jerusalem – a center of great cultural creativity and fertility surpassing in certain ways the Land of Israel – had been advanced by Gerson Cohen and Richard Cohen over 40 years ago. Yet, the old Diasporaism never questioned or challenged the basic Zionist premises – that the state of Israel is a vital center for the Jewish people. The new Diasporaism that is now emerging does precisely that. In some of its articulations – but to be sure not all – it can suggest, sometimes ever so haltingly and faintly, that the State of Israel is bad for the Jewish people and betrays Judaism. This, to us, seems to be a fascinating new development and the challenge for us is to turn this debate into a resource instead of a threat.


  1. See, for example, Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman, Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel (with the assistance of Lauren Blitzer at Florence G. Heller-JCCA Research Center; New York: The Jewish Identity Project of Reboot, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, 2007).
  2. Anti-Defamation League, “Anti-Israel Activity on Campus: 2009 in Review,” Feb. 2010, (
  3. Peter Beinart, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” in the New York Review of Books (May, 2010).
  4. As we discuss in greater detail later in the paper, responses to the charge of distancing include Theodore Sasson, Benjamin Phillips, Charles Kadushin, and Leonard Saxe, Still Connected: American Jewish Attitudes about Israel (Waltham, MA.: Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, 2010; and an entire issue of Contemporary Jewry 30, No. 2-3 (October 2010) devoted to the Beinart article and the debate between the research teams of Cohen and Saxe, including articles by more than two dozen social scientists and observers.
  5. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs has established a special desk devoted to it (headed by Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser) as has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Reut Institute has issues an number of reports on the subject and the JPPI has recently initiated a major comprehensive project, headed by Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog on the de-legitimization of Israel and its ramifications.
  6. I am grateful to Ilan Troen, Theodore Sasson, Steven Bayme, and Steven M. Cohen for their input into this and other sections of this essay, and for their thorough review and critiques.
  7. Richard Wolin, reviewing Pascal Bruckner, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), in The New Republic 21, N. 4 (August 12, 2010), 31-36, p. 34.
  8. Building a Political Firewall Against Israel’s Delegitimation: Conceptual Framework (The Reut Institute: Submitted to the 10th Herzliya Conference, March 2010.
  9. Anti-Defamation League, “Anti-Israel Activity on Campus,” op. cit.
  10. Anti-Defamation League, “Anti-Israel Activity on Campus,” op. cit.
  11. Anti-Defamation League, “Anti-Israel Activity on Campus,” op. cit.
  12. Manfred Gerstenfeld, The Academic Boycott Against Israel (Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs), p. 27.
  13. Farah Stockman, “Support builds for boycotts against Israel, activists say,” Boston Globe, August 22, 2010, A22.
  14. Gerstenfeld, “Academic Boycott Against Israel,” op.cit., p. 18.
  15. Sue Fishkoff, “Hillel students and professionals gear up to face anti-Israel campus activism,” JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 16, 2010 (.)
  16. Fishkoff, “Hillel Students.”
  17. Ami Eden, “Brandeis president in the eye of the storm,” JTA, February 18, 2009. (
  18. Frank Barat, “On the Future of Israel and Palestine: Interview with Ilan Pappé and Noam Chomsky,” in Counterpunch , June 6, 2008 (
  19. Sara Roy, “Second Annual Holocaust Remembrance Lecture, Baylor University, April 8, 2002; cited by Gerstenfeld, Jews Against Israel, op. cit., p. 8. A few years later Roy stated:”Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians is not the moral equivalent of the Nazi genocide of the Jews. It does not have to be. The fact that it is not in no way tempers the brutality of the repression, which has become frighteningly normal. Occupation is about the domination and dispossession of one people by another. It is about the destruction of their property and the destruction of their soul. At its core, occupation aims to deny Palestinians their humanity by denying them the right to determine their existence, to live normal lives in their own homes. And just as there is no moral equivalence or symmetry between the Holocaust and the occupation, so there is no moral equivalence or symmetry between the occupier and the occupied, no matter how much we as Jews regard ourselves as victims”.[14] “The Impossible Union of Arab and Jew: Reflections on Dissent, Remembrance and Redemption”. Edward Said Memorial Lecture. University of Adelaide. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
  20. Barat, op.cit.
  21. Ilan Troen, private communication, September 19, 2010.
  22. Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (London and New York: Oneworld Press,2006).
  23. Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People (London: Verso, 2009).
  24. Oren Yiftachel, who wrote Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine (Philadelphia: PennPress, 2006). Steven Bayme, “The Intellectual Assault on Israel and Pro-Israel Advocacy: How the American Jewish Community Should React,” in Manfred Gerstenfeld and Steven Bayme, eds., American Jewry’s Comfort Level, Present and Future (Jerusalem and New York: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and American Jewish Committee, 2010), pp. 257-263, p. 258/
  25. Tony Judt, “Israel, the Alternative,” in The New York Review of Books 60, no. 16 (October 23, 2003).
  26. Galchinsky.
  27. Galchinsky, pp. 138-152.
  28. Galchinsky, p. 159.
  29. Besides the 1995 and 2010 JPR Israel survey on British Jews and the 1995 and 2002 FSJU Survey on French Jews, longitudinal systematic measurements of Jewish attachment to Judaism and Israel have not been pursued in Europe. See Erick H. Cohen (2007) and JPR Israel Survey (2010)…
  30. SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. See the Gavin Gross article “anti-Israeli Activity at the SOAS, How Jewish Students Started to Fight Back”.
  31. Middle East Quarterly, fall 2010, “The Arab Lobby: The European Component” by Steven J. Rosen, p. 22. Available online at
  32. There is, to be sure, ‘hard’ de-legitimation on the Left in the farther reaches of the anti-globalization movement, ISM, etc. yet those seem to draw on, or push to extremes, the ‘soft’ versions.
  33. For an accessible survey from antiquity to the present, see Adam Garfinkle, Jewcentricity (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2009). The whimsical title and cheeky writing-style notwithstanding, Garfinkle is a serious and accomplished policy intellectual.
  34. See for example Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”
  35. Arthur Hertzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), p. 312.
  36. It is worth noting that the American Revolution yielded a different republican model, characterized by an ethos of liberal individualism and multiple civil and associational networks, mediating group and individual relationships to the state. The late Seymour Martin Lipset, suggested that this was due in no small part to the absence of an established church; having emerged from a multiplicity of Protestant sects, the American nation-state was au fond characterized by internal confessional diversity, or in other words, the homogeneity and hegemony of the earlier Church was not simply transposed onto the new universal state. See Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
  37. It is instructive in this regard to note the recent massive study of a wide range of current forms of anti-Semitism, by the distinguished historian Robert S. Wistrich, A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, (New York: Random House, 2010), whose text alone runs to nearly 1000 pages. The picture he paints is dark and alarming. He also sees elements of Jewish self-hatred, everywhere. Yet, his study is thinly-conceptualized and seems to use the rubric of anti-Semitism for everything. He does note, at p. 782, that: “Anti-Semitism, than as now, is an important barometer of the cultural crisis in Europe and the Middle East, including problems of globalization, modernization, ethnic nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and racist prejudice in general.” Yet this very observation indicates that labeling any and all phenomena “anti-Semitism” can obscure as much, or even more, than it clarifies.
  38. It should be clear that the word “liberal” is being used her in terms of its “classic” meaning as an ethos that promotes individual freedom and equality under the law.
  39. For a particularly fascinating study of how Jewish thinkers reworked traditional Jewish life into the key of 20th century American liberalism, see Lila Corwin Berman, Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals and the Making of an American Public Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
  40. Of course the Catholic Church has plotted a complex and delicate course in its relations with the State of Israel. Since the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and Israel in 1993, relations have been on a more or less steady footing and outright theological demurral from Israel’s existence is seldom heard in the official Catholic hierarchy, though sensitive issues remain. See Toni Johnson, “Vatican-Israel Relations,” Council on Foreign Relations Background Paper (May 12, 2009):
  41. Ruether’s 1974 Faith and Fratricide was a truly path-breaking work in Christian self-reckoning in the wake of the Holocaust. For her stinging critique of Zionism, see her The Wrath of Jonah The Crisis of Religious-Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (co-authored with Herman Ruether) (Minneapolis; Fortress Pres, 2002).
  42. See Dexter Van Zile, “The Presbyterian Church’s Attack on Israel,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, June 1, 2010,
  43. See Badiou’s (in)famous 2005 essay, “The Uses of the Word ‘Jew’,” available in translation at
  44. See Slavo Zizek, “Christians, Jews and Other Criminals,” available at
  45. For a searing critique of Zizek’s own lapidary anti-Semitism, see Adam Kirsch, “The Deadly Jester,” The New Republic, December 2, 2008, available at, and, Idem., “Zizek Strikes Again,” The New Republic, July 26, 2010, available at
  46. Tony Judt, “Israel; The Alternative,” New York Review of Books, October 23, 2003, available at
  47. Ibid.
  48. This point was the heart of one of the most powerful critiques of Judt’s position, by the celebrated liberal intellectual Leon Wieseltier, “Israel, Palestine and the Return of the Binational Fantasy: What is Not to be Done,” The New Republic, October 27, 2003, available at
  49. See generally, Yehudah Mirsky, “The Cosmopolitans,” Jewish Ideas Daily, November 26, 2010, available at
  50. In Israeli academia post-modernism and post-Zionism are closely linked. Post-modernism contributes to post-Zionism by “deconstructing” “hegemonic narratives” and placing all narratives on an equal footing.
  51. At the same time, post-Colonial studies has positive contributions to make to Jewish historical self-understanding, see Aamir R. Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).
  52. Edward Said, The Question of Palestine,(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.
  53. See his Unheroic Conduct (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). It should be noted that Boyarin is a classically-trained and distinguished, if often provocative, Talmudist and taught for some years at Ben-Gurion University.
  54. The cruder forms of anti-Colonialism simply see Israel as an extension of the discredited Colonial order and its contemporary incarnations in American imperialism and globalized capitalism. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is explicit on this linkage; the celebrated intellectual Noam Chomsky frames his critiques of Israel in terms of his thoroughgoing opposition to what he sees as an equally thoroughgoing US imperialism, with which Israeli policies willingly dovetail. Chomsky himself does recognize Israel’s right to exist; it is the unremitting, withering and all-encompassing tone of his criticisms which make him part of our discussion.
  55. An extremely critical but comprehensive and thoughtful survey of critiques of Israel and Zionism from within Israel’s intellectual elite is the recent study by Assaf Sagiv,”The Sad State of Israeli Radicalism,” Azure Spring 2010, pp. 58-95, available online at
  56. See the lengthy report of Anne Herzberg, NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Jerusalem: NGO-Monitor, 2008).
  57. See Yehudah Mirsky, Human Rights, Democracy and the Inescapability of Politics, or, Human Dignity Thick and Thin, Israel Law Review, (2005:1-2) pp. 358-377
  58. See Martin Bright, “Annie Lennox: I was Wrong about Israel,” The Jewish Chronicle, March 4, 2010, available at . Lennox still, though, refuses to visit Israel, see,7340,L-3967318,00.html
  59. For a thoughtful critique of Spielberg’s film from a left perspective, see Morris Dickstein, “The Politics of the Thriller,” Dissent Spring 2006, available online at
  60. Saskia Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages, (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton U. Press 2006).
  61. It should be noted that in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 and especially the sovereign debt crisis in Europe of 2010, politicians and European populations started to favor once again, nationalist orientations. This has been reflected both in terms of policy and in terms of national pride and awareness. Nevertheless this new nationalism itself may contain more civic, inclusive elements than the traditional European ethnic-nationalism. See “German Identity Long Dormant Re-asserts Itself”,
  62. Paul Wapner, Environment Activism and World Civic Politics. (Albany NY: SUNY 1996)
  63. Shaul Kelner, Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage, and Israeli Birthright Tourism (New York and London: New York University Press, 2010), 16.
  64. Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman, with Lauren Blitzer, Beyond Distancing: Young American Jews and their Alienation from Israel (The Jewish Identity Project of Reboot, 2007), p. 19.
  65. Cohen and Kelman, 14.
  66. Sasson, Phillips, Kadushin, and Saxe, Still Connected, op. cit.
  67. Cohen and Kellman, 17.
  68. Sylvia Barack Fishman and Daniel Parmer, Matrilineal Ascent/ Patrilineal Descent: The Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life (2008: Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University).
  69. Fishman and Parmer.
  71. Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone(New York: Simon and Shuster, 2000)
  72. Cohen and Kelman
  73. Sasson, Kadushin, Saxe
  74. Contemporary Jewry, Vol. 30, No. 2-3, October 2010.
  75. Evelyn Gordon, “Frank Lutz on Why American Jewish Students Won’t Defend Israel,” Commentary magazine online (Contentions),
  76. Fishkoff, “Hillel Students and professions, op. cit..
  77. 2010 JPR Israel survey
  78. Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture (Three Volumes) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).
  79. Ronald Inglehart, Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1990), Modernization and Post-Modernization: Cultural, Economic and Political Change in 43 Societies (Princeton: Princeton U. Press 1997). Inglehart based his conclusions on three waves of cross-societal survey research involving (as regards this issue) 22 variables. The survey research was extensive, involving up to 123 countries.
  80. Many older Jews still remember the mobilizing slogan “משלאגט יידן- גיטס געלט! (They are beating [persecuting] Jews – Give Money!!)
  81. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (Cambridge: Polity, 2006)
  82. Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernscheim, Individualization: Institutionalized Individualism and its Social and Political Consequences.(London: Sage, 2002).
  83. Kevin Smith dir., Chasing Amy, a film (1997).
  84. Wuthnow, After the Baby Boomers, (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 2007)114.
  85. Hannah Arendt, The Jew as Pariah, New York: Grove:, 1974), Idem. The Origins of Totalitarianism (rev.ed. New York: Schoken 2004), , Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, Aamir Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Post-Colonial Culture. (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 2007).
  86. See Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in the Talmud, Los Angeles and Berkely: University of California Press, 1992. Boyarin describes how Talmudic Judaism inscribed itself as “carnal” and defined itself over and against Christianity.
  87. Arthur Herzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews, Jacob Katz, From Prejudice to Destruction,( . Cambridge, Ma. Harvard U. Press, 1980)
  88. Anders Gerdmar, Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism,( Leiden: Brill, 2009). P.44.
  89. Hannah Arendt, “The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition”, in The Jew as Pariah p. 68.